- Associated Press - Sunday, April 16, 2017

BEATRICE, Neb. (AP) - Eight new libraries are opened in Beatrice last week.

While they’re not as big as the Beatrice Public Library itself, they’re all over town and stuffed with books.

The Beatrice Little Free Libraries celebrated their grand opening with what’s being called the “Tour De Library” on April 9, the Beatrice Daily Sun (https://bit.ly/2peqpMfO ) reported. Children could fill out a passport with a different stamp at each location and turn the completed passport in at the Charles Park location for a chance to win prizes.

The Little Free Library project was the brainchild of the Leadership Beatrice class now in its eleventh year that wanted to leave a legacy for the city. Previous leadership classes have been responsible for the Chair-ries Jubilee that auctioned off decorated chairs for the Arts in the Park event, scholarships for local youth, the Beatrice Backpack Program and more.

The 14 members of this year’s Leadership Beatrice class are hoping the eight Little Free Libraries set off a wave of support in the community. The current libraries stand in front of St. Paul’s Lutheran School, Paddock Lane Elementary, the Beatrice YMCA, St. Joseph Catholic School, West Scott Baseball Fields, Charles Park and various homes, though there are at least four or five other libraries in the works, said Leadership class member Capri Cutchin.

“We want it to be like a snowball effect,” Cutchin said. “People doing their own, making it a family project.”

The boxes range in size, but most of them are less than five feet tall. Attached to a post or built free-standing, they usually have two or three shelves lined with books of all sorts, from western romances to historical nonfiction and, of course, most of them have a fairly large selection of kids’ books.

Some have themes, like the library at the Scott Street Ballfields is in the shape of a baseball, the library at the Y is covered in hand-painted flowers and the library at Charles Park has a quote from Andrew Carnegie on the importance of libraries in a community.

The Tour De Library commenced on the first day of National Library Week_though in Beatrice, the whole month of April is dedicated to library appreciation_and Beatrice Library director Laureen Riedesel said the project will be a great opportunity for people to have access to books wherever they are and whatever time they feel like picking one up.

There are no cards needed, no overdue fees, no limits to what you can check out, no phone call reminders to bring your books back, Riedesel said, and that’s what makes the Little Free Libraries a unique addition to Beatrice. If they choose to, people can keep the books at the free library and they can even bring their own favorites in to share.

“It’s a whole different way to approach it,” Riedesel said. “It’s individual people donating, it’s individual people using it, it’s people deciding when they’re going to bring it back, if ever. The important thing is, people are reading, people are enjoying that activity, people are getting a variety of books.

Cutchin, who plans on dressing like children’s book character Pinkalicious for Sunday’s event, said Beatrice Leadership has been approached by Aseracare Hospice which is interested in getting a little free library in front of their building. Cutchin said she hopes that people don’t think of the project as something just for kids, but rather a supplement to the library with a bit of something for everyone.

A big part of the project, she said, is to make picking up a book as easy as just walking down the street and opening a cabinet. Even in a smaller town like Beatrice, she said, it’s not possible to know everyone, so she sees the libraries as an opportunity to get to know the people around you.

“Something like this brings people and communities together,” Cutchin said. “A lot of time people aren’t getting out and meeting their neighbors. They don’t really know who lives down the street from them.”

The little libraries are open 24 hours a day, which is also a nice feature, Riedesel said. The library is closed on Sundays, so having a place to get a book fix makes life a little easier.

“No matter where your regular library is, it can’t be convenient all the time,” Riedesel said. “Sooner or later you’re going to have to be away from it.”

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